ELECTION BATTLE

The BJP Swallows Mayawati’s Bait

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As sacked UP ministers go to other parties, allegations of corruption against the BSP lose their punch

UTTAR PRADESH ~ The final burst of campaigning is yet to be seen in Uttar Pradesh, but Chief Minister Mayawati’s latest gambit—of sacking 21 ministers because of corruption charges against them, and denying tickets to many more BSP MLAs—has already set state politics afire. As a result of this masterstroke, her adversaries have landed themselves in the dock—of their own free will. Caught in the vortex of this political storm are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), the two political outfits that had sought to expand their vote base by lapping up the local leaders kicked out by Mayawati in her image makeover exercise.

The worst embroiled in the trap laid out by Mayawati is the BJP, which had sought to align itself with the anti-corruption agitation led by social activist Anna Hazare and has been expecting to reap political dividends in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh for doing so. The party’s real face, however, got exposed the moment it welcomed many of the ministers sacked by Mayawati on corruption charges.

What is even more ironic is that the BJP’s U-turn came merely a day after it announced that it would never accept the “chors (thieves)” that Mayawati had discarded. It not only welcomed on 2 January former Family Welfare Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha, who is accused of masterminding the murder of two medical officers and defrauding the state of thousands of crore in the implementation of the National Rural Health Mission in UP, but also the state’s former Labour Minister Badshah Singh, who was indicted by Lokayukta NK Mehrotra for a massive land grab.

The same day, two other former ministers of the Mayawati government—Daddan Mishra and Awadhesh Kumar Verma—also figured in the BJP’s list of candidates for the Assembly polls. Mishra had resigned from the BSP a few days ago after he was denied a ticket, following adverse reports from his constituency. Verma was sacked on 25 December after complaints that he was unresponsive to people’s grievances.

The recruitment of sacked BSP ministers has created quite an awkward situation for many in the BJP. The party’s Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had, on 2 January itself, compared Mayawati and her ministers to ‘Alibaba and 40 thieves’, and declared that the BJP would never accept them. “We want chowkidars [gatekeepers], not chors [thieves],” he had said. And on 31 December, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya had alleged that Kushwaha and members of his family were partners with Mayawati’s family in 24 bogus companies floated to launder dirty money made “in scams in the National Rural Health Mission and land allotments in Noida”.

And now, all of the BJP’s justifications for inducting the sacked BSP ministers have started to look hollow. Its UP spokesperson Hriday Narain Dixit, for example, tried to explain that Babu Singh Kushwaha and Badshah Singh “could have conducted irregularities under the pressure of the Chief Minister”, while BJP leader Rajnath Singh argued that the two ministers had given up their ministries not because any charges had been proved against them, but on moral grounds.

A senior BSP leader pointed out that sacking these ministers was not merely an image makeover exercise; it was also a ploy to disarm the BSP’s opponents who have been levelling corruption charges against the state government.

In this aim, Mayawati seems to have succeeded. For, the BJP is not the only party that suddenly finds itself in the trap. The SP, too, is experiencing major differences among its senior leaders on the question of inducting former BSP MLA DP Yadav. Yadav is a history-sheeter who was denied a ticket by Mayawati.

While the SP’s Muslim face Azam Khan is said to be in favour of inducting DP Yadav, the party’s state president and son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav, said on 3 January that the party had not taken any decision on the issue. DP Yadav and his wife Umlesh Yadav had won the last Assembly elections as candidates of their own Rashtriya Parivartan Dal, which later merged with the BSP.

Though the Congress is not yet affected by the storm kicked off by Mayawati, political observers do not rule out the possibility of a few of the 21 ministers sacked by Mayawati talking to the grand old party. It, however, seems unlikely that these negotiations will ultimately amount to anything, given the high pitch of debate these developments have generated in the state.